What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: October 17th, 2011 by bobmorris

What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential
Robert Steven Kaplan
Harvard Business Review Press (2011)

How and why framing the right questions can help aspiring leaders to take greater ownership of what is most important to them

For than 2,000 years, those who mastered the Socratic method of inquiry have demonstrated the value of asking the right questions in the right way. It is a skill that anyone can master. What we have in this volume is still another explanation of how and why framing the right questions can help aspiring leaders, especially, to take greater ownership of what is most important to them. They do so by completing a process that consists of a series of questions:

o  What  do I need to know? Why?
o  Where and how can I obtain the information I need?
o  How and when will I take action on what I have learned?
o  To what extent (if any) will I need assistance?
o  How can I best measure the progress and impact of my efforts?

Robert Steven Kaplan has carefully organized his material within seven “areas of focus” that are most relevant to the fulfilling the career ambitions and personal fulfillment of aspiring leaders. He devotes a separate chapter to each and then, in Chapter 8, he explains how to “bring it all together” in the proper perspective.  His stated purpose is to formulate a “menu of potential inquiry” and create a process by which key questions can be framed and debated. I fully agree with Kaplan that the challenge is twofold: “framing the right questions, and, getting in the regular habit of stepping back and asking them.” It’s that simple…and that difficult.

How so “difficult”? Consider the nature of a crisis: It frequently occurs unexpectedly and requires immediate attention. With rare exception, there is an insufficiency of information initially; pressure and stress intensify exponentially while a response is being determined. The right answers, the best decisions, require asking the right questions. The system that Kaplan proposes can do much to help managers prepare for a crisis, first by anticipating it, then by creating a contingency plan based on answers to the right questions, and then by training everyone who would probably be involved, and finally by having sufficient resources available, if and when needed.

With appropriate modifications, the same system can also be effective during any planning process any organization or manager may need. In fact, I think it would be especially helpful to those now preparing for a career because, once again, identifying, framing, and then obtaining answers to the right (i.e. most important) questions are required. Whatever the given objective(s) may be, readers will appreciate Kaplan’s skillful provision of various devices such as boxed guidelines, bullet point clusters of key questions, checklists of key points, and especially the “Suggested Follow-Up Steps” section at the conclusion of each chapter and then the Appendix in which Kaplan reviews the critical questions for each of the seven areas.

With regard to the title, it refers to anyone who seeks both knowledge and wisdom that will improve quality of life as well as stand of living. What Kaplan offers in abundance is assistance with framing questions that can help to achieve those worthy objectives. Those who read the book will be much better prepared to ask them; better yet, they will be much better prepared to obtain the right answers to them.

 

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